How do we speak the language of blood and spirit? How do we utter words of life and death in the same breath? I am laying on my back on Arizona Street looking up at the clouds, watching the spirits of the dead ascend into the sky. The news choppers above in the air zooming in their lens, descending to a close-up of the suffering on the earth. The carnage of humanity, painting in blood on concrete.
Two bystanders are helping me, bless them. There are many dead and injured around me, I pray for them. I try and breathe deep and slow and meditate. I remember the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "Breathing in I calm my body... the earth entrusts herself to me, I entrust myself to the earth...... Life is both dreadful and wonderful."
"What is your name?" asks the bystander.
"Sandra Ellen Bacal," I answer.
"Where are you?"
"I am at the Farmers' Market," I reply.
"Can you move your legs?"
"Yes," I move my legs. My left foot is oozing blood. "My left arm is broken," I know immediately. I am conscious. I am alive in shock.
I review in my mind what happened. In two seconds, the amount of time for one human breath, nine lives have left the earth.
I hear the sound of an explosion. I turned around. There is a car traveling at the speed of darkness 30 feet away, bearing down on me Its right head light aimed toward my gut. The motor receptors of my eyes capture the fruit stands buckling like a house of cards, the dominoe theory is racing towards me. Tent poles, smells of destruction mixed with my bag of white nectarines, bodies flying. When in the face of death, is there more than the human reaction of the flight or fright syndrome?
Four days ago I had a surf lesson near Malibu lagoon. Carolyn taught me, if a wave is coming at you, and you can't surf it, if it is going to take you down, remember to relax. Relax and you'll live.
A great wave of humanity, of life and death is coming right at me. I take one step to the left, I am no longer a deer peering into a headlight. I close my eyes. Something hits the bottom of my feet like a surfboard. I relax. My body slams into the concrete.
I open my eyes and dream. In shock, the body slows down for protection. I breathe slow, deep and slow. My thoughts meander. They say we breathe 25,000 breaths every day we live. How many of the 25,000 are breaths of wisdom? In one human breath nine lives have left the earth.
Across the island from Maui, there was once a barren island. Nothing grew on that island. A missionary came to the island and climbed to the top of its mountain. He saw how the mountains on the other islands captured the clouds. The clouds would hover on the mountain peaks, rain down on the earth, and give great fruits and joy. But the mountain peak on the missionary's island was not tall enough to capture the clouds. He planted Norfolk Island pines on the mountain peak. Overtime the trees grew tall, and one day the mountain became tall enough to capture the clouds. Blessed with rain, the island became a tropical paradise on earth.
Later in the day, as I lay on the red tarp of the triage center on Arizona Street, the rain began to fall on us. An emergency worker came over and carefully began to put a tarp above me to shelter me from the rain.
"Oh, no thank you, please, the rain is good. It is healing. I need to feel the sky." I kept watch of the souls of the dead ascending, flying like eagles, I gave thanks to the healing waters falling from the sky.
Thank you bystanders, emergency workers, angels, survivors, farmers, and surf teacher.
On Sunday morning I sat for an oil painting my parents had commissioned of their three charming daughters. Well, actually one, my two sisters are actually pains in the bazookas. My neighbor, Frau Mosel, was the artist. Her painting wasn't so hot, but she had great potential for telling scary stories, poetry, and cursing like a sailor.
"Stay still little angel, how can I capture your beauty if you're squirming like a hungry porcupine? Didn't you have breakfast?"
"Yes, Frau Mosel, three pop tarts, two pretzels, one banana, a Hershey bar, and two glasses of milk. It's not the food, I'm excited! I just won a medal in school on Friday. Look!" I pulled the bronze medal from my blue jeans pocket. Cast inside was the image of a child riding upon an American eagle. "It's the 1st place finish for the Presidential Physical Fitness Award from the American School of Stuttgart! I did 75 squat thrusts, ran one mile, and, Frau Mosel, what's the matter, please don't cry, Frau Mosel?"
Her tears were running down her face and mixing in with the rainbow of oils on her palette.
"I must go now," she said
"Frau Mosel, here, let me help you. I will go with you."
Her elm cane with the ibis head handle, crunched the dry autumn leaves. We walked slowly to her house, arm in arm. Once we closed the door of her abode behind us, she began to talk like a river.
"When I saw your medal, I remembered a medal I once won," she said as she pulled a draw open underneath her china cabinet, "Come over and help me, kind (child)."
Together, we pulled up an old wooden chest with inlays of mother of pearl in the shape of two hands in prayer, and set it upon the coffee table.
"In 1944 I received a medal from the Fuhrer himself for having seven sons. You see, my sons went to fight in the war, World War II," Frau Mosel said as her wrinkled hand shot down inside her brassiere and pulled out a small gold key. She opened the chest, and like a magician at Disneyland, with a flick of her wrist, she removed the green velvet covering, and there appeared neatly ordered stacks of money, twelve stacks, each five stacks high.
"Did you win all this money too with your seven sons?" my eyes were aghast.
"Ah no, no my child. This is two million dollars worth of Weimar marks. Totally worthless now, but that's another story, my dear." She removed a stack of money and pulled out a moth eaten sweater. Inside the golden sweater was a black leather case with a pair of wings emblazoned on it. She opened the case, inside was a bronze medal of a mother with her arms surrounding seven little boys in uniform, and an eagle flying high above them all.
"Lilliana, words have wings, so what I say and show you, you mustn't tell your parents. They would forbid me to paint their innocence."
I nodded my head in agreement. "Frau Mosel, so you got this medal for having Johann, Hans, and Wolfgang. That's only three. Where are your other children?"
"Aah, my little Pythagoras. Dead, all dead, down, down, unter der weise schnee. All dead on the Russian front. Hans and Johann were too young to go to war, only Wolfgang remains, returned from the frozen world."
"Oh, Frau Mosel," I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a giant hug, "I am so sorry."
She hugged me back, kissed my forehead, and placed the medal back in its case. "This is the first time I have taken my medal out of its case in many years. You see, for what I once received the world's respect and pride, today I feel its scorn."
"Do you want to wear it?" I asked Frau Mosel.
"Gott im himmel, no, kind, I am only remembering the world through the lens of my tears. Scorn, and rightly so." She wrapped the case in the old moth eaten sweater.
"Frau Mosel, why do you wrap your medal in that old sweater?"
"Well, my child, a long story. It must have been in the fifth year of the war. I received a knock on my door one cold wintry night. It was a lieutenant with two volunteers from Hitler Junge (Hitler Youth). The lieutenant said to me, "Frau Mosel, every house on this block has been ordered to darn socks for our beloved soldiers on the Russian front. These must be fixed by the end of the week. I will return next Sunday at sieben uhr zwanzig, (7:20 p.m.) to pick up the darned sock." He handed me a giant box of 500 pairs of socks. What was I to do? In the fifth year of the war. There was no chocolate, no theater, no sugar, no art, no oil paints, no wool. How was I to get wool? I thought for three days upon this problem. On the fourth night I had a dream, and that saved me. I dreamt I unraveled all the sweaters in Deutschland, im Hamburg, Munchen, Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, und Stuttgart. All the forest paths, all the autobahn, the train tracks, the sidewalks, the mountain walkways, all of our country was covered in blue, white, green, red, and all the colors of the rainbow wool, unraveled from all the sweaters in Germany. I traveled the country unraveling all the sweaters spider mothers had knitted for their sons.
In the morning I awoke, and unraveled all my family's sweaters and darned those darn socks. Yes, and that is the story of the remnants of the last sweater I unraveled that now surrounds my medal of scorn. Now, my child, would you like some hot chocolate mit sahne (whipped cream)"
"Oh yes," I politely answered. "And Frau Mosel, can we play Mench Argert Dich Nicht (People Don't Argue)?" This was my favorite game. Kind of like America's "Monopoly" game, but without the real estate. "And maybe Frau Mosel, could we use all that Weimar money in the case, like the money we use when we play monopoly?
"Ja, a wise idea, a capital idea!" she laughed.
We sipped hot chocolate, and played the game with the two million dollars worth of worthless Weimar Republic marks. When sunset was near she put the money back in orderly stacks, placed the medal inside the money stacks, locked the cabinet, and returned the mother of pearl case to its home underneath the china cabinet. She returned the key to her brassiere.
I gave her a long hug goodbye. She closed the door behind me.
I waved and said "Auf Wiedersehn" to her son Wolfgang, who was raking the autumn leaves in his sandals. He gave me a half wave and a shrug. I looked down at his left foot, the one that was missing the three toes between the pinky toe and the big one, and quickly turned my head, not wanting to hurt his feelings. I wondered of the thousands of toes lost during WWII - under the white snows of the Russian Front. Land now rich in barley, wheat, potatoes, and rye. He kept raking away.
As I walked back to my house, I took the long way, and log walked through the forest, skipping on the logs above the creeks, holding my arms perpendicular to my body like a circus girl. I walked through what the towns people called the "old abandoned orphanage", but we really knew what it was - the Bund Deutscher Madel, the Confederacy of German Lasses - the Hitler Youth camp for little girls. The old cracked concrete swimming pool was full of leaves. I swept them all together in a giant pile into the shallow end. Climbed out and jumped down into them. I was completely covered in oak leaves and pine needles. My head stuck out, and I saw the clouds turn an iridescent white and purple. Sunlight filtered through wolf clouds, spread stained whipped cream fingers. The light caught my medal. I looked up at the sky, seeing a rainbow... I imagined I was a child riding the eagle, making rivers in the sky, over the multi-colored wool roads of Germany, through the vodka fields of Russia, over the White Nile and Virunga Mountains of Rwanda.